Thirty years after the discovery of the ozone hole, a scientific consensus has been reached that human-induced change is also leading to extremes in weather patterns and increasing overall temperature in various regions. After years of denying global warming, even skeptics such as physicist Richard Muller now say global warming is real and humans are almost entire the cause. Because stopping climate change instantaneously is difficult, a method of slowing it down is reducing the usage of coal.
The legislative branch in particular has been uncooperative with large corporations in finding an agreement on the reduction of coal usage. One promising business venture came from American Electric Power, which proposed a plan to strip coal from the atmosphere and store it in deep rock formations underground. After initially promising to cover half of the cost of research – approximately $668 million – the Senate decided against the expansion of the cap and trade policy. The shutdown of this policy, which subsidized technologies that reduced fuel emissions, forced AEP to close its research. Unfortunately, this illustrates only one of many cases where the legislative branch has denied support to green corporations.
Congress also expressed open disinterest in curtailing global warming when it denied a comprehensive solution by the Chamber of Commerce that would reduce emissions. As business elite began to recognize hesitation in policymaking, they transformed the Chamber into a prosecution team for the environmental trial. It waged war against the EPA’s plan to use regulatory means to control emissions by questioning scientific findings which state that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health.
Although the legislative branch hasn’t minded playing the role of the obedient sheep, companies like Pacific Gas and Electric, PNM Resources, and Exelon are quitting the Chamber due to its extreme rhetoric and obstructionist tactics. Some businesses have formed another coalition known as the United States Climate Action Partnership to come up with a plan for limiting emission. The future of this association looks to follow the footsteps of the Chamber if Congress continues to be unresponsive. This case also gives foresight into likely actions taken by corporations when mismanaged by Congress.
Although Congress has shown a lack of enthusiasm of the biosphere in the recent decade, it has historically done an adequate job in passing environmental legislation. In 1970 for example, a landmark Clean Air Act was passed, which regulated air emissions and granted the EPA power to set air quality standards to counter ozone depletion and acid rain. The Clean Water Act was passed two years later, which placed a limit on the flow of raw sewage into rivers, lakes, and streams. According to EPA statistics, two-third of the nation’s waters are now safe for fishing and swimming, in comparison to the one-third prior to the act’s passage. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 protects wildlife through banning the killing and trading of all endangered plant and animal species. This dynamic Congress continued initiating change through the 1970s by passing the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act, which outlawed and controlled industrial pollutants to ensure safe drinking water and public health. However, their role has significantly diminished since 1980, no longer adapting to present environmental dangers. In order to combat global warming, Congress needs to incorporate new technology and more ambitious projects; there is little chance that industries will invest unless Congress provides far stronger financial incentives.
Like Congress, the executive branch has also accepted defeat in the fight to combat anthropological climate change. The Obama administration recently permitted oil drilling off the coast of Northern Alaska, the East Coast, and eastern Gulf of Mexico. It has attempted to disguise it with vague language on drilling projects and by offering optimism in the creation of thousands of jobs, tax revenue, and independence from foreign oil.
However, further investigation proves that these projections are largely misleading due to the interchange of “potential” and “current” reserves, in which the former means the amount likely to be discovered over a very long time. The victims in this approval are inland water systems, whose level of dead zones – coastal sea areas where the water oxygen levels have dropped too low to support marine life – has doubled. These water systems support swamps, fisheries, and wetlands that have longed hosted biodiversity.
Another lackadaisical response from the White House was to the British Petroleum oil spill of 2010 off the Gulf of Mexico. A methane leak caused an explosion abroad an offshore BP drilling rig, leading to 170 million gallons of pressurized oil into the ocean. Now the biggest in American history, the BP oil spill cause the death of 11 people, ulcers and internal bleeding in many wildlife populations, an unbalanced food web, and estimated $659 million loss in tourism and recreation. After the incident, the executive branch pursued a hands-off policy, allowing BP to make many of the critical decisions. This included their approval of BP’s choice to use Corexit, a dispersant known to cause significant harm to marine ecosystem, to prevent the oil from spreading.
While its work has fallen short of its campaign promise, the executive branch initially showed enthusiasm toward the environment with the new presidential administration. When elected, President Obama claimed it was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal. In 2009, he signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which invested in technologies to advance environmental protection. The commander-in-chief also increased government spending on environmental causes, instructed civil servants to increase the fuel-efficiency of America’s cars, promised to double America’s output of renewable energy, and urged Congress to pass a cap on the country’s emissions of greenhouse gases. President Obama made a national goal to generate 80 percent of energy from clean sources by 2035. The U.S. doubled its renewable-energy generation and became the top researcher and producer or advanced batteries for hybrid and electric cars.
However, these policies were quick to fade in the face of criticism. Some conservative economists and political groups claimed that the power of the executive branch was expanding at an uncontrollable rate. They suggested that the government should seek other effective market alternatives to solve the global crisis, such as an externalities tax on carbon. Unable to find a middle ground, the executive branch has forgotten its promise of virtue and safety.
The judicial branch is the only entity of the federal government that has used its power consistently to protect the environment. In the Sierra Club v. Morton case, the Supreme Court ruled that all any environmental group needed to assert a standing in a natural resource matter was to find among their membership a single person with a particularized interest. This means that any individual who hikes, fishes, hunts, etc. in an area can make a case against a project that takes away from the aesthetic appeal of the area.
The Supreme Court has also proven in rulings that it takes environmental damage seriously. In the Woburn case, eight families who contracted leukemia and died due to contaminated water by W.R. Grace Co. received $9 million in settlement.
The Supreme Court has also delegated a significant amount of power to the EPA through the Chevron USA v. NRDC case, where it differed to the EPA statue as long as it is unambiguous and the interpretation is reasonable. Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency has also made it difficult for organizations to petition EPA instituted acts. The case established that the EPA has statutory authority to regulate greenhouse gases emissions from new motor and must ground its reasons for action or inaction in the statute.
Efforts to change the EPA from watchdog into advocate for polluters have been frustrated by upper level courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the EPA to follow the law in requiring utilities to install pollution controls when power plants were upgraded. The U.S. Court has required the EPA to start regulation greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and the D.C. Circuit Court has recently admonished the EPA to require reductions in mercury emissions from coal-powered power plants.
Although many issues exist outside the U.S. borders, nations worldwide look to the United States for assistance or leadership by example. Not only has it failed to meet these expectations, the United States has now also gained a global reputation for deliberately languishing international agreements in the Senate. In 1998, the Rotterdam Convention took place in the Netherlands to control the international trade of highly toxic chemicals, use proper labeling, promote safe handling, and inform purchasers on restrictions. Likewise, the Stockholm Convention took place in 2001 in aims of eliminating the production of persistent organic pollutants.
However, both of these treaties were held up in Congress, displaying a failure in U.S. leadership to participate in global efforts to protect human health. Seizing the opportunity, the United States exported 28 million pounds of pesticides between 2001 and 2003 that were banned domestically.
Also in 2001, President George Bush refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol – an environmental treaty aimed at reducing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide – because it didn’t place limits on developing nations. When the agreement went into effect in 2005, the United Sates had failed to join 141 countries.
In order to create a comprehensive solution to environmental issues, regulations need to be implemented for specific industries, not nations. Ecological habitats cannot be preserved without making larger cuts in the emission of greenhouse gases. Because the Kyoto Protocol fails to target larger greenhouse gas producing industries such as power generators, the problem will be unresolved.
Through the 21st century, the United States has actively searched for loopholes in previously signed agreements. One negotiation ignored today is the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992, a benchmark in the movement to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations. Ironically being the first nation to sign the agreement, the United States has since then looked for loopholes to pollute at desired levels. It has decided to implement a quota system where each country would be given permits or quotas on the amount of pollution it can produce. Because these permits can be traded or borrowed for the future, the US can dump more pollutants at a relatively cheap price from unindustrialized nations in Africa.
While the role of the United States in international policy is weak today, it was once at the forefront of initiating proposals for climate change. The United States became one of 24 nations to sign the Montreal Protocol in 1987, an agreement designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of substances, can as chlorofluorocarbons, responsible for ozone depletion. It also joined the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, also known as the Rio Summit. Here, global diplomats addressed alternative sources of energy to replace fossil fuels, production of toxic components such as lead in gasoline, implementation of public transportation systems, and the growing scarcity of water.
These initiatives were eventually put aside to the fear of higher energy prices, which projected to an economic downturn and energy shortage.
While the United States government defends its policy actions with the fear of becoming less competitive in the global marketplace, many countries including South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, and Denmark have successfully implemented stringent environmental restrictions.
The intentions of the United States’ international environmental policy have become evident to other nations. South African Prime van Schalkwyk was quick to recognize that the U.S. refused to make credible and ambitious proposal in the G8 Summit. He stated: “[South Africa] will not compromise on our demand that the U.S., as the world’s largest historical emitter, should contribute their fair share. For our part, we stand ready to take on our fair share of responsibility.” As the leader of South Africa, he promised to focus on the “creation of more empowering technology, financing framework, and an equitable climate regime.”
The Kenya Climate Change Working Group is a group that works with the Kenyese government to establish nationwide regulations. However, they also expressed concern that they need U.S. support for global change.
The Brazilian government has also set realistic goals and targets to reduce deforestation by 80% by 2020 in response to the expectation that the Amazon rainforest will be wiped off by 2050. Even though the Brazilian government is taking an active stand on fighting climate change, the movement of particulates from major polluting nations such as the U.S. toward the tropics is looking to be a challenge. Brazil’s goals are realistic and can be accomplished by the proposed date if the United States cuts its emissions to the level promised.
The effects of America’s environmental policy on the world have been devastating. Due to the power and greed within its politics, the U.S. has failed alleviate the rapid loss of natural sustainability. Many of its policies attribute to habitat loss, climate change, excessive nutrient load, over-exploitation, and unsustainable use. The United States’ environmental policy is also attributing to the destruction of biodiversity worldwide. These factors lead to the collapse of and threaten extinction to many ecosystems throughout the world rich in diversity, such as coral reefs. Because the United Sates hasn’t proven to be strict in monitoring the illegal trade of endangered species, pressure to destroy habitats for illegal hunting grows in developing nations.
Solving the Crisis
Solutions to environmental issues can only be implemented when the United States addresses challenges by initiating policy that works with businesses but sets stringent requirements. Until private business is forced to address this issue by an international mandate, inventiveness in attacking the problem will be lost. The first challenge is eliminating the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas – eventually forgoing fossil fuels. The international mandate should also work to conserve all parts of the environment. It should not compromise on biodiversity in order to satisfy economic superpowers.
Government can also help to solve environmental difficulties by encouraging and working with big industries to promote the development of renewable energies. It needs to fund research and development technologies and also needs to develop a prize fund with large rewards to attract knowledgeable scientists into environmental research fields. With elites and bureaucrats in society now attempting to undermine climate change, it remains a mystery whether environmental issues will be portrayed as emergencies or propagandas. Until a decision is made, Earth can only wait anxiously.